A bizarre but strangely showy earthstar fungus, Astraeus spp. (probably A. hygrometricus) graces dry sandy soil in the Oak Openings of northwest Ohio. From my experience these interesting fungi are not very common, and thus always a treat to come across.
Although I've got - as always - an abundance of material, it's been tough to make time to share much of it here. Lots of things going on, including some big new endeavors that are taking much time. More on that stuff later.
Back on October 19, I made an all too rare foray into the biodiverse habitats of the Oak Openings just west of Toledo, Ohio. This expansive sandy region, carpeted with prairies, wetlands, and savannas, is a treasure trove of unusual flora and fauna. I have spent untold hours in this region, but not much time in recent years. Thus, it was great to connect with local natural history enthusiast and fellow blogger Kim Smith and venture into a new addition to The Nature Conservancy's fabled Kitty Todd Preserve. Our main target was the day-flying buck moth, Hemileuca maia, which occurs there in big numbers. There were plenty of distractions along the way, one of the most notable being this cool fungus.
One of the dry, open sand prairies hosted dozens of earthstars, and naturally it was incumbent upon us to stop and admire them, and make some photos. This fungus resembles a starfish, or perhaps a muted ground-dwelling flower clad in tones of ocher. The whitish central disk or ball contains the spores, and the one in this image has already ruptured. The jagged opening in the center of the puffball is where the windborne spores exited en masse.
While the earthstars often grow on barren sand or dirt, they'll sometimes be in or near mosses such as this haircap moss in the genus Polytrichum, which makes for showier photo ops. And we're all about showier photo ops here.
I fear this bit of photographic expression might be getting a bit overplayed but what the heck. Here is the same photo as the previous, but "twirled" using a recipe of various Photoshop trickery. It does look pretty cool if you ask me, but the fungus sans the artistic license probably looks even cooler.